The First World War and Women's Equality

The First World War and Women's Equality
The Great War of 1914 ? 1918 was a turning point in the history of many things, including the Women?s Rights Movement. It is the effect the war had on the women?s movement that I will be focusing on in this essay. Before the war women had very little rights compared to the men. They were forbidden from working in the heavy industries (mining and factories) or the higher paid ?full? professions of the time (lawyer, manager, etc). Women were only paid to work in the domestic industries such as childcare, housekeeping and nursing. If men were in the same industry (i.e. butlers) they were always paid more than women. If women did work they were also expected to do all the household chores at home as well. In 1911 only a third of the female population was in paid employment. Women had no say in whom was in the government and they were generally as second class citizens, a different race. A saying concerning women was that ?they should be seen and not heard?. Despite their being downtrodden many women who wanted reforms refused to give up and in 1912 the suffragette movement was formed. With the onset of the war things began to change. The men that usually did these jobs had enlisted in the army and if they weren?t already dead they certainly weren?t working so it left huge gaping holes in the industries that they came from.
The demand for shells at the front caused women to start filling the jobs of the men. The effects of total war had caused the need for women to be employed in the heavy industries such as munitions, drivers, welders, and mechanics. Total war meant that instead of just the soldiers being affected by the war, as was the norm for wars of that time, civilians became affected by the war. The German u-boats were sinking the ships that were carrying supplies to Britain from America. This left Britain short of food and the public had to ration themselves so as not to starve. The public were also affected by the war because of the bombing of the coastal towns of Norfolk. Total war means then that the public is involved in the war. The changes this caused in the women?s working life were mainly the amount they worked and how dangerous it was. Some women ended up working twelve-hour shifts under extreme conditions. If they worked in a munitions factory there was always the danger of fire, explosions and poisoning from the fumes of tnt. One woman saw a scalping, a hand being mangled and an arm severed. Many women who worked in munitions factories had yellow skin from the effects of the tnt. These ?canary girls? (as they were called) were given little respect. One worker commented that they were subject to whispers and points while on the way to work in the morning. Some aspects of their working life, however, did not change. Many working women were still expected by their husbands (some industries were exempt conscription and considered too important to allow people to leave) to do all the housework even though they had been working the same as he had. Their pay was still lower than the remaining men that worked in the factories was and there was opposition to their employment from many areas. Opposition to the women?s employment came chiefly from the Trade Unions. The trade unions were made up of workers from the industries with a different union for each industry. They objected to the women taking the places of the men in the workplace. On a day to day basis the female war workers faced sexual discrimination from their male counterparts, their employers and the male public. The era of women in the workplace was coming to an end as the troops from the front returned to replace the female workers whom in truth had only been filling in. The majority of women returned to their normal lives and life continued for a time as if the women had never displayed the capability to work as the men did. The suffragette leaders Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst supported the war because of the opportunities it displayed in furthering their cause of equality. Although their demonstrations and rallies took a back seat during the war as Emmeline and Christabel devoted themselves to helping the war effort the question of women?s votes soon came back into the forefront because of the old-fashioned residential qualification. This meant that because the fighting men weren?t in Britain they couldn?t vote. The age of consent for women to vote was set at thirty in 1918. In conclusion we can say that the war did not bring about equality in its own right but helped speed up the process. We have seen that during the war when women were working alongside men they were still not regarded as equal. The war did nothing to improve the lives of women directly but it changed many women?s views of themselves and as a result support for equality increased. It was only after the war that many men began to realise that women were not second class citizens and that they could work alongside them. Although full equality was reached in 1928 (ten years after the end of the war) there is no doubt that had the war not taken place then it would have taken a lot longer for the full equality of women to happen. It is an interesting to note that today there is still a significant pay gap between men and women in the same industry just as there was in 1914. So perhaps the war did not help in bringing about equality at all.

The First World War and Women's Equality 7.6 of 10 on the basis of 3670 Review.